Greebling

Boak and Bailey make some interesting comments about pub tat – here a tin-plate sign, there a fishing float or two, and everywhere shelves of unread books – and the messages that it conveys:

What this kind of greebling aspires to, of course, is the genuine, accidental clutter of really old pubs. … The great thing about contrived greebling is that it only takes a decade or two to look as if it’s been there forever, and for fake greebling to attract the real thing as regulars present offerings as tokens of love.

Perhaps the value of greebling is that it suggests continuity – that a pub has been under the same ownership for more than a year or two, at least.

(Greebling? Yes, greebling.)

I think this last point is right, or half-right: it may not be the impression of continuity that the proprietor’s after, so much as – more straightforwardly – the impression of age. Age doesn’t necessarily mean trying to look like “really old pubs”, either. I’m thinking of Jam Street Café, a bar near us that I never used to visit very often (beer range not great, plenty of alternatives). When I did go in, though, I always felt comfortable straight away, purely because of the decor: framed posters advertising local bands from the very first days of punk. (They had one for Gyro, for goodness’ sake – who the hell remembers Gyro? I didn’t live here back then, but I did collect records on independent labels – including Gyro’s one and only single. (Maybe that was a poster for their one and only gig.))

Anyway, I went in again a year or so back, after a refit and a rename (Jam Street), and immediately felt uncomfortable. I realised eventually it was (also) because of the decor – the walls were now covered with posters for all these, I don’t know, modern, up-to-the-minute acts, like Moby and Catatonia and the Sterephonics… In other words, instead of appealing to people who wanted to be reminded of their lost youth in the late 70s, they’d reoriented to people who wanted to be reminded of their lost youth in the late 90s. Can’t blame them, I guess – it has to be a bigger (and thirstier) market – but it didn’t half make me feel old. (I hope they saved those posters at least.)

Then it gets meta: when a new bar opens, and you go in and see the walls adorned with Algerian hot chocolate posters, American coins flattened by trains and tide tables for Stranraer from 1975, what do you think? You know for a fact that the place hasn’t been there long enough to accumulate decades’ worth of assorted international cruft – and besides, the paintwork’s all fresh – but does it work on you nevertheless? Do you think Clearly the proprietor has come to this venture bearing the fruits of many’s the long year spent roaming the seven seas? Probably not. There is obviously an appeal to some kind of imaginary past, but it’s equally obvious that – while the individual elements do have a history – the composite past they evoke together is imaginary; and these two things cancel each other out. You know that it’s just decor, in other words; you judge it on whether you feel comfortable with this combination of elements or the composite imaginary past it suggests, or like the kind of person who’d put it together. (See also cafés with a vintage “look”, which often seems to involve mismatched crockery for some reason.) I love Sandbar dearly, incidentally, and will be going back there as soon as it’s feasible – and it’s probably the only place mentioned in this post of which I’d say that – but their particular combination of elements includes some that raise definite questions.

It goes beyond meta (if that’s possible) when the venue with the not-quite-believable combination of bits of vintage decor is not only new but part of a chain (paging Cosy Club). Given that the combination of elements on the wall presumably consists mainly of replicas and imitations, even the question of whether you would warm to the kind of person who would evoke this imaginary composite past gets lost. What you’re faced with is (on one hand) a look which relies for its impact on imitating things which did have a history, and (on the other) the knowledge that the look is just a look, which tends to cheapen the effect and reduce its impact. The extreme version of this approach is the chain pub refit I saw a while ago, which turned a multi-room pub with genuine signs of age into a big, open space, broken up with screens and dividers – all with shelves, loaded with miscellaneous but (ironically) very new-looking cruft.

Greebling: from an accumulation of objects with genuine age (even if only 30-odd years of it) to the mass-production of a brand-new imitation of the real thing – and from an instant emotional connection to none at all. And all within half an hour’s walk, in Chorlton (which admittedly is well-supplied with bars, whether old, new or old-but-disastrously-refitted).

One final, unrelated point on those shelves of unread books. B&B also write:

If you stop and look at the books on the shelves, or investigate the artefacts, you’ll find they rarely stand up to scrutiny.

I’m not so sure about this, where the books are concerned at least. A while ago the OH and I, who met at university, were visiting our offspring at a university up north. In a Spoons, having ordered a meal, we found ourselves with a few minutes to kill and started taking an interest in the books on the shelf opposite. A familiar coat of arms caught our eye: there was the Yearbook of the Cambridge college where we had met, mumble years ago and 200 miles away. (We didn’t even know there was a Yearbook.) Not only that, but it was for our year – and there, listed among the names of the new intake, were both of ours. It was more than a little spooky – but it was definitely genuine. (And, I suppose, genuinely old. If you must.)

 

One Comment

  1. Posted 11 November, 2020 at 4:14 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Pub near me run by a dealer in second-hand tat. Old clocks, horse brasses and agricultural implements, many with price tags on. Meta?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: